Arriving on home video today, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World offers a combination sequel/reboot to Robert Rodriguez’s hugely successful “Spy Kids” franchise, launched with the original Spy Kids in 2001 and followed by Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams in 2002 and Spy Kids 3D: Game Over in 2003.
All the Time in the World offers a new round of pint-sized spies (Mason Cook and Rowan Blanchard) who learn that their stepmother (Jessica Alba) is secretly a top-level spy facing a villain known as The Timekeeper (Jeremy Piven). Armed with high-tech gadgets (including a robotic dog, Argonaut, voice by Ricky Gervais), the new Spy Kids wind up teaming with the two originals (the decidedly more grown up Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) to protect the world from his evil plan.
ComingSoon.net spoke with writer/director Robert Rodriguez about returning to the franchise, his collaboration with his own children (fantastically named in real life Rocket, Rebel, Racer, Rogue and Rhiannon) and what the future holds for his Austin-based Troublemaker Studios.
CS: It’s been eight years since the last “Spy Kids” film. What made you decide to both return to the franchise?
Robert Rodriguez: I had brought a picture to Bob Weinstein and it was going to be a different movie. Then I told him, “You know, let’s not do that movie. Let’s do something that we know that we already have an audience for. Kids still ask for another ‘Spy Kids’ movie. Let’s do that!” I had come up with a story that kind of restarted it with some different kids. I had been working with Jessica Alba and I saw her with a little baby. She was bringing it to set and it had an exploded diaper. Seeing that, it was just like she was a spy. She was kind of dressed like a spy with a little baby and I thought that would be a good angle to another “Spy Kids.” Secondly, my youngest kids hadn’t been around when I made the first three. They had become huge fans just on their own, watching the DVDs that were in the house. I realized that they didn’t understand that I had made those films, even though I told them. I think they thought I just meant I had bought the DVD, I guess. (laughs) It wasn’t until I showed them behind-the-scenes footage that they went, “Wait, you know the Spy Kids?!” I thought, “We’ve gotta make another you. You should both experience what your siblings got to.” Being a part of making a big family movie like that is just the most fun you can have. Being on set and turning into spies and seeing the dog. Getting to make that with your kids is just awesome.
CS: What was it like being able to let them meet the actual Spy Kids?
Rodriguez: It’s really funny. The first day of shooting, I introduced them to the Spy Kids. The reaction isn’t that great because they haven’t seen them in action. They look just like normal kids. Then you re-introduce them near the end of the shoot after they’ve seen footage and seen what these kids can do. They’re like, “Oh my god! We’ve gotta go back and meet the Spy Kids again!” After they’ve seen them flying around and doing all this stuff, then they’re suddenly iconic to them. It’s pretty cool to see the evolution of taking a regular kid and turning them into a Spy Kid and how it even affected my own children.
CS: Danny Trejo gets a quick cameo again and it’s always amusing to see that he has the nickname “Machete.”
Rodriguez: That’s right! That’s pretty funny. We had always had the idea for the real “Machete” movie ever since I knew him back when we did “Desperado.” We never thought we’d get around to making it, so when we went to do “Spy Kids,” he needed a codename. We named him “Machete” after the character from the movie we never got to do, thinking we’d never get to do it. So when we did get to do it, it makes it look like a really rich, odd alternate universe where my adult movies mix in with my kid movies. It always seemed like they never converged.
CS: It’s kind of funny that your adult films and your kids films both embrace the same over-the-top style and sense of humor, just on very different levels.
Rodriguez: People always say, “Why do you do kids movies and then adult movies?” and the truth is that they’re totally the same. If you look at them, they’re all fantasies and they’re all comedies. They’ve all got gadgets and really wild imagination. You could easily make one an R and another a PG. They’re all from the same mind. You can tell that I used to be a cartoonist. They all have the same flavor and they’re all completely unrealistic. They’re all made-up worlds, really. That’s what they all have in common.
CS: What’s the process like in casting children that haven’t been seen in films before?
Rodriguez: Well, that’s pretty easy. The kids grow so fast that, if you’re casting a movie last year for a Spy Kid, you’re going to come across a whole new crop of kids this year. They just grow so much that the age range we’re looking for comes and goes very quickly. It’s tricky because you’ve got to cast them, projecting what they’re going to be like in six months when you actually start shooting. They really grow and change completely even in that amount of time. When we cast the little boy, the studio said, “Are you sure this is the right kid?” and I said, “I know he doesn’t seem like it yet.” He was very serious, but I could see a goofy quality to him. I knew he would become even more comedic in the next six months as he grew and matured a little more. They were like, “Alright…” and then when he turned up on the first day of shooting, they said, “We love this kid! He’s great!” You’ve got to have an eye towards the future and know how kids develop. Having five kids of my own, I’ve figured out how to cast them early and know how they’re going to be later on.
CS: Do your kids get approval process of the script as it moves along?
Rodriguez: Yeah, you run things by them. It all happens very quickly, so it stays very spontaneous, which is a good thing. That’s one of the great things about having kids is that they’re very spontaneous. You don’t want to over-prepare them.
CS: On this one, you also got to work with a dog, Argonaut.
Rodriguez: Oh, man! That’s so fun. They always say, ‘stay away from kids, babies and pets’ and on this one we had all three. But the reason they say that is because they’re so unpredictable. That’s actually what I like the most about it. Everything else you can plan to a T and you know what you’re going to get. With this, you have no idea. It might be magic or it might be nothing. When it’s magic, though, it’s really exciting. That was what it was having the camera and seeing the dog perform. He wasn’t the best trained dog because he was kind of a scrappy rescue. He had some training, but he had such a great face and personality that I chose him over the more highly-trained dogs that could do anything. I figured he’d be better and he was really terrific. It was so much fun to direct him.
CS: You were a big proponent of 3D very early on with the third film released in the format back in 2003. What’s changed in the 3D shooting process?
Rodriguez: It’s the same. We shoot the same way, with cameras stuck together as we did back then. That was a much cruder version of the system that they use now, but it was the same idea. They haven’t changed that. It was hard to convince people back then that we knew what we were doing but as soon as they saw the results, they loved it. “Spy Kids 3” was the biggest of all the “Spy Kids.” After the 3D, Jeffery Katzenberg and everybody went, “Oh! 3D! Let’s do 3D!” 3D definitely became more popular and it was really cool to bring it back.
CS: It’s also impressive that you’re able to shoot everything locally. This was done entirely at your Austin-based Troublemaker Studios, right?
Rodriguez: Yeah. We’ll shoot in the studio or around Austin. On the last “Spy Kids” there were some scenes that took place on islands. I would go just by myself with a couple of kids for a day or two to Costa Rica and shoot the beach or a volcano. Everything else would be shot in Austin. It would look like we were globe-trotting but really we weren’t going anywhere. We just got a couple of exterior shots, a couple of establishing shots and then shoot the rest here. This one, “Spy Kids 4,” is all here. The city is very accommodating to let us shoot anywhere and I put a lot of people to work here. When you have a green screen and a stage, you can make it anywhere.
CS: Do you know the future of the “Spy Kids” franchise?
Rodriguez: I’m not sure, but we might even get into television. It’s such a popular title with kids. They love that empowerment with the Spy Kids. It’s very powerful for them to see themselves as kids that can fly around and do anything. So, yeah, we may try to get into television.
CS: Is that something that’s actually moving forward now?
Rodriguez: No, just something I’d like to see happen.
CS: As live action or as a cartoon?
Rodriguez: I’m not sure. I haven’t really thought about it too much. It could really go either way.
CS: What’s next on the film front? Is “Sin City 2” happening early next year?
Rodriguez: Well, we’re still working on the script for that and then the same with “Machete 2.”
CS: And at Comic-Con you announced the Frank Frazetta-inspired “Fire and Ice.”
Rodriguez: Yeah, we’re working on that, too. That’ll be sometime next year. That might be the first thing up.
CS: And “Heavy Metal” as well?
Rodriguez: Also in development. We’re working on it, I just wanted to announce them so that people would know we’re working on them.
CS: How you balance having so many projects in development at once?
Rodriguez: Well, developing them in the first place takes some time. Then you have to write a script, do the art and get it together. You see if it’s ready to go and, if it is, you go back and rework the script some more. You’re never really sure which one is going to pop up first, so you have to develop multiple ones. Sometimes they even go at the same time. “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” was made at the same time as “Spy Kids” 2 & 3. I shot “Shark Boy” at the same time that I shot “Sin City.” We do it like that a lot. “Machete” and “Predators” shot at the same time.
CS: You also tend to build up a sort of Troublemaker actors troupe. Jessica Alba, for instance, appeared in “Sin City,” “Machete” and now “Spy Kids.”
Rodriguez: That’s right! Sometimes they go all the way across. That’s what happens. You meet somebody like Steve Buscemi in “Desperado” and go, “This guy would be great in a kids movie. He’s got these great big Don Knotts eyes and he’s so expressive.” Then we put him in “Spy Kids 2.” You meet an actor and you realize that you can utilize them in so many different ways. With Jessica, she was in “Machete” and I thought, “I’ve gotta put her in a ‘Spy Kids’ movie because she’s a mom now. You can’t think of a sexier mom than Jessica Alba. It was the coolest thing to have her as a spy and a mom.
CS: What about Ricky Gervais as the voice of Argonaut? How did his casting come about?
Rodriguez: For some reason, he was always who I had in mind for that. I asked him and he said, “Sure I’ll do it!” But at that point we had already shot all the dog stuff, so we just needed to add the voice. I was able to send him the whole thing so he could see if he wanted to be a part of it. You’re basically shooting knowing that you’ll probably have somebody saying something funny the whole time. He was great and did a lot of improvisation. I wrote him some lines and he improvised stuff. He was just great.
CS: One thing that didn’t make it to the DVD was Aromascope.
Rodriguez: Aromascope! We’re going to put that on a future edition. I had originally thought, “Well, we’ve already done 3D and now everything is 3D. We can’t just come out in 3D again.” I remember an old John Waters movie where they handed out these cards that you scratched along and you smelled. So I shot it with the idea that there could be smells, though I didn’t tell anybody. The actors didn’t know. The whole movie, they didn’t know why they were smelling stuff so much till they got the announcement just before the movie came out that it would be in 4D. That was funny.
CS: I’m guessing you got a kick out of tricking audiences into smelling diaper bombs?
Rodriguez: Oh yeah! That was a lot of fun, testing it out on my kids. They just wanted to keep smelling the stuff and replaying the scenes with the smells. They thought it was really funny when it would pop up. I asked a smell company to send me a bunch of smells and I just checked to see which ones would smell the best and then I wrote those ones into the script. You just ask which one is the most effective and then you’ve got really good smells, really bad smells and really rotten smells.
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D.